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EU: Fisheries

Volume 711: debated on Monday 1 June 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what new measures they will propose at the next meeting of European Union fisheries ministers to deal with the depletion of certain fish categories.

My Lords, at the May Agriculture and Fisheries Council, the Government made clear our willingness to consider fundamental change as part of a comprehensive package of measures. The UK Fisheries Minister endorsed ecological sustainability as the basis for a stable economic and social future for European fisheries.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, but does it not mean that all member Governments must give strong support to the Commission’s long-running efforts to prevent the extinction of certain crucial stocks? Could the specific mechanism of regional management bodies be considered as a future structure?

My Lords, I agree with both those points. It is encouraging that there is general acceptance that the current basis of the common fisheries policy is not working and that sustainability and dealing with overfishing are very important indeed. I believe that the noble Lord is right that regional management will give incentives for people in the industry to do the right thing. That must be the way forward.

My Lords, do Her Majesty’s Government agree that the Conservative Party’s current election manifesto is flagrantly dishonest—

I have it here, my Lords, and it promises that Conservative MEPs will reform the common fisheries policy. Why do we not take back control of our waters, which contain a large majority of all European fish, thus to repair our decimated fishing industry, and then lease the surplus to foreigners? Is that possible if we stay in the European Union?

My Lords, I am not going to come between the noble Lord and his former party. Leaving the CFP would be an isolationist and disastrous action by this country. The best policy is for us to work within the CFP and the EU to make the changes that I indicated.

My Lords, we must not be hasty in these matters. Some reform took place in 2002, although it is clear that it has not succeeded in the way that was required. We will work with all energy to encourage the Council to make the necessary changes, but a great deal of consideration will have to be given to this. At the end of the day, we have to deal with the issue of sustainability. It is very important that we make progress.

My Lords, given that there seems to be consensus around the House that the common fisheries policy is not working effectively, what plans do the Government have for bringing in conservation policies to preserve our own fish stocks, as the common fisheries policy appears neither to conserve fish nor to preserve the livelihoods of fishermen?

My Lords, the Government undertake work in a number of areas to conserve stocks, such as encouraging improved selectivity and implementing closed areas to protect spawning fish. More recently, they introduced a number of seasonal closed areas—for instance, in the North Sea—to protect cod stocks. We will continue to take measures such as that, but, fundamentally, we need to achieve reform within the CFP.

My Lords, will my noble friend explain how the present policy and any beneficial change that he has mentioned will be enforced on the high seas? I know that our Royal Navy does a very good job of enforcement, but I cannot believe that the Spanish navy, assuming that there is one—

The armada, I am sorry, my Lords. I cannot believe that the Spanish navy makes the same effort to enforce the rules in respect of Spanish fishing vessels anywhere in the EU.

My Lords, alas, I am not in a position to respond to my noble friend’s comments on the size of the Spanish navy, but compliance is a key issue. One of the criticisms of the current operation of the CFP is that there is uneven compliance among the member states that are covered by it. We shall look for greater consistency in the reform process, but it is worth pointing out that the European Court of Justice ruled in December last year that Spain had failed to meet its control obligations, leaving it liable to a fine if it does not take corrective action.

My Lords, what is being done to prevent fish that are not wanted from being thrown overboard instead of being used? They are dead; all they feed is seagulls, whereas they could be used on land.

My Lords, the noble Countess has referred to discarding, which is a major issue. Sample work done in 2007 in the North Sea suggested that there is, in relation to English and Welsh registered vessels, a discard of 40.6 per cent of total catch. For some stock, the figure is much higher; for instance, for plaice it is 74.7 per cent. That is a very stark figure. Clearly, action needs to be taken. At European level we need rules on gear types and restrictions to be enforced. We are also looking at the example of other countries in relation to discard bans to see to what extent that might be part of the reform process.

My Lords, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that the proportion of the EU budget devoted to the common fisheries policy is reduced in a way that avoids risk to food production while providing a broader range of environmental and other benefits?

My Lords, the structural fund makes sums of money available to deal with issues around the fishing fleet. We would like to see much more of the available resource, as part of the reform process, being used to incentivise fishermen to do the right thing in terms of sustainable fishing. We see that as the way in which reform should be taken in future, so that the fishing fleet itself takes much more responsibility for providing the solution to the problem.